IBM Watson Forks Over $2.6B for Health Data Stash

IBM Watson Health on Thursday announced plans to acquireTruven Health Analytics for US$2.6 billion.

The acquisition will give the company access to about 300 million patient files, according to IBM, making it one of the world’s largest holders of diverse health-related information.

One of its chief objectives is to use the data to bring more value to healthcare recipients. By integrating Truven’s extensive cloud-based data sets, including cost, claims and lab results, into its own data sets, Watson will be able to create meaningful insights that can be translated into practical solutions for patients across the globe, IBM said.

Big Data’s Big Impact in Healthcare

“We’re adding more than 8,500 clients, which includes all the different stakeholders in the healthcare ecosystem, from government to employers to health plans to hospitals to providers and life science companies,” said Kyu Rhee, chief health officer at IBM Watson Health.

The acquisition of information is really about finding meaningful insights that were previously unknown, he told the E-Commerce Times. By combining Watson’s analytic capabilities with Truven’s rich trove of data, IBM hopes to crack many of the healthcare industry’s biggest codes, namely value and accuracy.

“Now we house one of the world’s largest and most diverse repositories of health-related data, and it represents about 300 million lives, if you add it all up,” Rhee said.

“This is exciting because what does Truven have in terms of data? They’ve got a great cloud-based data set, which has hundreds of different types of cost data, claims data, quality data, outcomes data, which is now added to the other data sets we have. With the power of Watson, with cognitive insights, we are going to translate that big data into big insights to those key stakeholders in the health and healthcare ecosystem,” he added.

An example of a stakeholder who would benefit from the acquisition is a doctor treating a patient, said Rhee, who is a physician.

“It’s ultimately about providing more value. … It is about improving quality, improving the health of populations at a reasonable cost. I, as a physician, want to know if I’ve got a patient in front of me — whether it’s taking care of diabetes, pneumonia or cancer — I want to know that I am recommending the highest-value options to my patients in terms of care,” he said.”That demonstrates evidence-based guidelines. That is consistent with the literature. That’s consistent with the people like the person in front of me in terms of good outcomes. Watson will deliver those insights through cognitive computing. That’s value. Obviously, I want to do it at a reasonable cost,” Rhee noted.

The Price of Smart Healthcare

While there are other powerful analytics systems, none are focused on healthcare the way Watson is.

One reason is that it’s a costly endeavor, especially when you factor in the countless variables such as the number of medicines, illnesses and procedures, according to Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group.

Building Watson was a daunting endeavor, but “IBM did it anyway,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

“The first public use of Watson was for healthcare, so an awful lot of work has gone into educating the system so it can diagnose illnesses relatively quickly and very accurately. To carry this thing to scale, however, it kind of needs to be integrated with some system that already exists, thus the purchase of Truven,” Enderle said.

“When you tie these two together, now you have the machine and the go-to-market and existing set of folks that can service and sell the overall solution. But now they need to scale it out and get it broadly used so people can see the benefit. Now people will be able to see the advantage of having an intelligent system, a cognitive system, which is better than anything out there,” he said.

Because of IBM’s huge investment in the healthcare field and its large amassment of data, Enderle speculated that the company won’t have competition at that level in the near future.

“For a while now,” he said, “they will be the only ones at scale.”

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